We had the good fortune of connecting with Hal Masonberg and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Hal, what do you think about risk?
Risk-taking in artistic expression is at the core of what I am most drawn to capture and engage in. As a music photographer, I specialize in improvisational music-making. Primarily jazz and jambands. Taking any creative endeavor to new and unexplored spaces is, for me, one of the most spiritual and rewarding experiences. There’s a place musicians go – artists of all kinds, actually, but in the case of my photography work, it’s mostly musicians – when they let go of ego and allow themselves to enter into unknown and unexplored spaces that reflect that particular moment in time, that setting, the particular musicians they are playing with in that moment, when the music becomes a deep conversation and, eventually, it’s no longer musicians playing music, but music playing the musicians. When the music plays the band, as they say. To be in the presence of those moments, to be taken on that journey, for me, is everything. Then to be able to capture those moments in another art form. To create a work that is inspired by another work. I get to a place where I and my camera are “dancing” with the musicians. I’m completely in the moment. I don’t know what will happen next or what I will see in the flash of a second through my lens, what I will be drawn to, moved by, inspired by. It’s a completely new and adventurous journey every single time. I approach my filmmaking the same way. I’m not interested in creating something for a specific audience. I’m only interested in trying to express externally what I am experiencing internally. And to explore that realm more deeply. The subconscious is a powerful thing and there’s a real vulnerability in letting it express itself without censorship. Yet there isn’t a moment in creative risk-taking that I don’t learn more about myself. That was certainly the case in making my film JAZZ NIGHTS: A CONFIDENTIAL JOURNEY. I trusted my instincts, like the musicians I was filming. And people connect with that film in myriad ways. It’s amazing to see what it becomes once I’m done with it and someone else absorbs it as part of their own journey, their own story. The parts of my life that I am most proud of and most thankful for have evolved directly from emotional and personal risks.
For me, going all out and taking artistic risks requires embracing two fundamental things: Firstly: We are all completely unique. No other human being in the history of mankind has our exact set of experiences. Our particular upbringing, joys, traumas, relationships, etc. We all see the world and experience the universe through a somewhat unique lens. And – not to be morbid – but when we die that view of the universe dies with us. Unless we find a way to express it externally, to share it. And that requires that we explore it ourselves, push past the known into the unknown. Is that important? I don’t know. It feels important to me. For me, art equals empathy. And I think empathy is something the human race needs more and more of. Secondly: No matter how unique you are, it’s important to remember that you are NEVER going to create something that alienates the rest of the human race. Period. It can’t be done. Trust that what you express – if it’s honest – is going to connect with others. All others? No. But you are speaking for those who are wired like you, who “get” you, who see their own humanity and experiences in your work and discover more about themselves through their personal engagement with that work. At the same time, you are offering others a different perspective and insight on this vast experience of what it means to be human. You’re adding – in your own small way and for anyone who’s interested – to the overarching document of the internal human experience.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am both a filmmaker and a photographer. The latter sprouted directly from the former. I started as a filmmaker and screenwriter in Hollywood and found the experience to be rather soul-crushing on a fairly regular basis. My first feature film was severely compromised by producers and studio before we ever shot a frame and then in post-production, the creative team (including myself as writer/director) was removed from the film and the producers re-cut the footage into something completely unrecognizable from the film we’d set out to make. It was a devastating experience and the final straw for me in terms of working within the confines of the film “industry.” My next film was a completely independent, almost no-budget music documentary called JAZZ NIGHTS: A CONFIDENTIAL JOURNEY about an unusual and inspiring underground jazz music residency that took place in secret for two years. That experience combined my two greatest loves: film and music. Particularly improvisational music. JAZZ NIGHTS won the Audience Award at the 2017 Copenhagen Jazz Film Festival and has probably been the most rewarding creative experience of my life. Even though we’re still raising funds to get the music rights and other licensing rights to release the film via streaming! That film opened doors for me as a photographer and videographer of live music.
I had always loved photography, but had never really thought about music photography until JAZZ NIGHTS. Before I knew it, I was on the road with bands and photographing festivals and shooting promos in the Grateful Dead jamband world – a world I had been a part of in my youth. And of course there’s jazz. I became a regular photographer at LeRoy Downs’ Just Jazz Concert Series here in Los Angeles, in my opinion, one of the best venues for live jazz in the world! So for me, the greatest lesson was to trust what is inside me. And to realize that there are many different definitions of success and they don’t always look the way you initially envisioned them. For me, the answer is to create for myself, without compromise. That may sound a bit arrogant, but I don’t think it is. It all depends why you’re doing it. I want to explore artistically what is inside me. I feel compelled to do that. So I make my work the way I want to make it and the result is that I have drawn more people to me and my work through doing that than in trying to go through other avenues that simply aren’t structured for me to explore the things that are most important to me. The more I honor myself, the more people seem to connect with and be moved by what I do. So far, it’s been the best recipe for happiness and success I’ve personally found. And for the fist time, I truly love the people and communities I work with.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
LeRoy Downs’ Just Jazz Concert Series. Dinner at Taylor’s Steakhouse in Koreatown. Walking rescue dogs at The Linda Blair Worldheart Foundation. Going to see the band Jerry’s Middle Finger perform. An afternoon at the Huntington Gardens. Lunch at Cantor’s or Langer’s Deli. A day at The Broad Museum. A movie in the Cinerama Dome. Lunch at the Grand Central Market. A drive up the PCH.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I would love to give a shoutout to some of the people who believed in me and gave me a chance to show what it was I had to offer. Author, historian and publicist Dennis McNally.. Just Jazz TV and Concert Series curator LeRoy Downs. The musicians from my film JAZZ NIGHTS: A CONFIDENTIAL JOURNEY – Geoff “Double G” Gallegos, Shaunte Palmer, Emile Porée, Jon Dalton, Josh Duron, Mike Khalil, JP Maramba & Jordan Katz. All the members of the band Jerry’s Middle Finger. – Garrett Deloian, Rodney Newman, Halina Janusz, Jon Gold, Lisa Malsberger, Burt Lewis. Skull & Roses Festival creator Chris Mitrovich. Mr Musichead Gallery owner Sam Milgrom. Photographer Jim Brock. Filmmaker and photographer Alba Morera.
Other: JAZZ NIGHTS Official Site: http://jazznightsfilm.com JAZZ NIGHTS Indiegogo Campaign: https://igg.me/at/jazznightsfilm Hal Masonberg’s Acting & Auditioning Workshops: http://www.halsworkshops.com
Alan Sheckter Todd Sharp Hal Masonberg